Editors note: Part One of the We Are Not Just a Diversity Checkbox mini-series addressed background MOGII characters in media, and why there is no good excuse to leave out queer characters. In Part Two, Emily K, one of our Teen Voices, goes further into this, looking specifically at speculative fiction. This series updates every Friday, and will be wrapping up the first week of September.
It doesn’t stop at just a lack of queer characters. Many YA speculative fiction books take place in worlds where the existence of MOGII people isn’t even considered. The possibilities in world-building for speculative fiction is limitless. We already live in a heteronormative and cissexist world; it doesn’t need to carry over into science fiction and fantasy stories.
It’s worthwhile to note that it is possible to set a story in a society that ignores same-gender couples in order to point out the heteronormativity. For example, the novel Acid by Emma Pass (Delacorte Press, March 2014) is set in dystopian London, and the main character, Jenna, meets an explicitly stated f/f couple. It leads Jenna to wonder about other same-gender romantic relationships and how they had to live with the heteronormative government-mandated match-making. This is a positive example also because it doesn’t use the pain of MOGII characters to further the growth of a main character, both girls in the couple are named, and they have multiple conversations with Jenna in the chapters they appear in. While this is better than what most books in the genre have done, there’s no need to take such baby steps when there are books with, ya’ know, canon queer protagonists.
Minor characters who are MOGII are important, though. In the words of Rainbowheart, another contributor to the Goodreads thread, “side characters are as important as main characters because it reflects the diversity of our world. So teens can read these books and see that parents, siblings, friends, teachers and so on are not necessarily straight by default.” While that’s important for cishet teens to realize, “queer characters do not and should not have to ‘make straight people see how normal we are’…Queer characters should first and foremost be for queer people. If straight people get anything out it, then that is a neat perk.” (Sarah Stumpf)
Some authors try to pass off subtext, allegories, “undefined relationships,” and “love that’s open to interpretation” as equal to blatant textual evidence that a character is MOGII-identified. While that was really the most people could hope for in terms of representation 50, 40, or 30 years ago, that’s not the case anymore. For example, Malinda Lo has written four novels picked up by mainstream publishers, none of which feature cishet protagonists. Ash (Little, Brown 2009) is a lesbian retelling of Cinderella with more fantasy elements, Huntress (Little, Brown 2011) is a prequel to Ash that features two queer female protagonists, and her duology Adaptation (Little, Brown 2012) is a science-fiction story with a bisexual female protagonist. Lo has been a guest at speaking events, book panels, book conferences, and signing tours since first being published in 2009; her books have sold well and all four of them are either already published or soon to be published in the U.K. and Australia.
Despite the success of Adaptation and other Young Adult sci-fi books with one or more canon bisexual major characters such as Otherbound by Corrine Duyvis, Saga by Brian K. Vaughan (which is a graphic novel series, but still worth noting in this list), The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson, and Love In The Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block, people are spending time writing articles about whether Divergent is the science fiction genre’s first bisexual allegory. It seems backwards to congratulate books for having possible queer interpretations of characters when books with canon queer characters, many of which are written by MOGII-identified authors, exist and are going unnoticed (which is also due to the fact that the books with MOGII characters are given less press and are allotted less money for marketing than their cishet-palooza counterparts).
Drop a comment to let me know what you thought of this week’s post, or talk to me on Twitter @captainbooknerd.
I’m Emily, an asexual kinda-girl/kinda-agender lesbian in an American high-school straight out of a TV teen drama. I’m also a sci-fi/fantasy book and comic enthusiast. I can be found in one of the three libraries I have a card for, my local bookstore, the awesome comic store in my town that has fluffy cats, or at my computer. My goal is to become an editor at a Young Adult fiction publishing imprint. Twitter: @captainbooknerd, tumblr: adventureswithinthepages.tumblr.com